Melbourne’s cocktail scene has gone from strength to strength in recent years, clinching a handful of ‘world’s bests’ and industry accolades that are putting our beautiful city on the world’s spirit-sodden bar map. But up until lately, a lot of the action has been happening in the CBD, bar a few Fitzroy venues that are knocking balls out of the booze-laden park. Cocktail lovers, meet Rufus: The latest luxurious drinking den to open in Melbourne, and for once, it’s on the southside.
Rufus is a labour of love that’s about much, much more than top-shelf drinks and classy nibbles. Run by Daniel Verheyen, founder of cheese and wine emporium Milk The Cow, the petite Prahran venue is hidden above Greville Street’s bustling shopping strip (right above the Aesop shop in fact, how convenient…). Spotting a gap in the southside market for a cocktail venue that prides itself on service and elegance, Verheyen decided that rather than waiting for one to pop up, he would open one himself.
The luxe table-service bar found its name via Daniel’s fascination with British political figure Winston Churchill and his beloved poodles, Rufus and Rufus II. Churchill’s love of luxury, quality and, above all else, his pets has inspired pretty much everything in the jaw-droppingly beautiful venue, from the selective champagne list, to the sumptuous food menu, to the outdoor terrace on which you can enjoy a cigar with your cocktail, should you wish.
In addition to the open-air terrace area, soon to be fitted out with heaters and a weather-proof awning, you’ll find a decadent parlour room, filled with velveteen chairs, petite smoked glass cocktail tables, artworks depicting its lovable canine namesakes, and an exposed Martini and whisky sidebar, where you can watch cocktails being expertly mixed without having to leave your seat. The third space, a cosy, speakeasy-esque drawing room, pretty much screams late-night debauchery (note to self: this should be your next date spot), and is perfect for larger groups who would like a space all to themselves.
When it comes to drinks, you’re unlikely to find a menu quite like this anywhere in Australia, let alone Melbourne. Champagne lovers, you will be treated to some of the most mouth-watering, and hard-to-find, drops around, including Churchill’s own Pol Roger favourite. Stuck for a whisky to share with friends? Rufus will happily serve you a 250ml or 500ml crystal decanter of your spirit of choice, which sounds far too convenient for our liking.
If cocktails are your sipper of choice, you’ll find classics alongside revived drinks created in London’s greatest cocktail institutions for Churchill during his Primeministership.
“Prahran deserves a bar like this—classy, sophisticated and with an appreciation for simple luxuries,” Verheyen told us, after fixing us an incredible sloe gin, Maraschino, and Huia Brut concoction, titled The Fall of France. Hear, hear.
As for the food, the Rufus menu is centred around indulgent light bites that are served with a flourish. Expect Yorkshire puddings stuffed full of slow-cooked lamb (courtesy of the kitchen at St Kilda dining hotspot Luxembourg), freshly shucked oysters served on silver tiered platters, Siberian caviar, cream-covered strawberries, rich chocolate ganache truffles and, of course, a cheeseboard to make any dairy lover weep.
While the CBD’s cocktail venues push forward with nitrogen-frozen rainbow beams, or whatever it is they’re putting in them right now, and Fitzroy retains its crown as champion of all things barrel-matured and bottle-aged, Rufus is setting a new standard for cocktail culture in Melbourne, one that focuses on service, finesse and, above all else, passion for magical, memorable drinking experiences. Go now, while you can still get a table, and don’t scrimp on the strawberries.
Image credit: Cath Grey for The Urban List